Monday, August 10, 2015

The Draper Mile: A Blacksburg Tradition

Since we moved to Blacksburg last summer we've found no shortage of cool events. Last year, Ginger and I tried our feet (ha ha) at the Draper Mile. It's a one mile foot race that starts near our house and ends one excruciating mile later downtown at the Stepping Out Festival. We don't typically run in races that short because Ginger and I tend to favor longer distances where you can measure out your effort and enjoy the scenery of the woods (read: ultras). But, we like hanging out with friends and enjoying local traditions, so the Draper Mile has become a bit of a tradition. Last year was our introduction to the crazy race, and we had a a lot of fun. Ginger even placed in her Age Group last year. This year, she did even better!

Lois came into town for her now traditional Stepping Out Festival visit on Friday afternoon. It was great to see her and catch up before we headed downtown for the race. I left the house for a little warm up run around the neighborhood while Ginger and Lois parked the car downtown with some fresh clothes so we could enjoy the festival after the race. I met Ginger at the Start/Finish just before the race after she'd had a little warm up too.

The race was as painful as I expected it to be. My goal was to see how much time I could shave off from last year, and, hopefully, find my way onto the Age Group podium for a race. I lined up at the start and just took off running as fast I could. It was a little crazy with people getting their feet tangled up in front of me, but I managed to stay out of the chaos and work my way to the side of the road so I could have some room to maneuver. At just past the halfway point, I heard a volunteer calling out splits and I was somewhere around 2:40. My lungs were burning and my chest was really yelling at me: "What are you DOING?!!" it screamed while my legs protested. In true Jens Voigt fashion, I said, "Shut up, legs. Do what I tell you!" and pushed on with my face crinkled up in a mask of pain. I was, as the commentators on the Tour De France might say, unpacking my suitcase of courage all over the road. I was keeping my eye on Ryan, a quick guy from VT Ultra community, and just hoping to close the gap between us before I got the finish line.

I stopped my watch as I crossed the line at 5:16.

This was good for about 20 seconds faster than last year, and second in my Age Group. I'll take it.

Ginger's race (women's elite) went off about 5 minutes after my race did. So I had a couple of minutes to try to start catching my breath and then try to see her come across the finish line. I wasn't able to get to a good spot to see her finish, but I found her as she was walking away from the finish line after running an impressive 6:11!!!!
The girl is quick! Quick enough to be first in her AG. Yeah, she's awesome!

After catching up with Lois, Jordan, Kristen, Heather, and Ryan for a few minutes, Ginger and I did a little cool down jog before joining Lois for a slice of pizza from Benny's. So good!! If you haven't had some, don't sleep on it! Then we enjoyed an evening of walking around taking in the festival and catching up with Lois.

Saturday morning Ginger and I had a nice run on the Huck and then we went up to Floyd to see the Farmer's market and enjoy a little tourist time.

Sunday was another great day as we took Lois on one of our favorite hikes: The Cascades in Pembroke. I was so proud of Lois for making this tough hike look easy.

After the hike we went to the Palisades for brunch. If you haven't eaten brunch there, you'll want to remedy that ASAP. IT. IS. AMAZING. Naps were in order after brunch before we had a great dinner with Jordan and Kristen.

It was a great weekend. It's always nice to have family in town and hang out with friends. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Catching up: New River Trail 50 Mile Meeting of the Bad Idea Club

A few weeks ago the boys and I decided it was time to act on a bad idea that Brett floated last winter when we were getting ready for Umstead 100: Running the length of the New River Trail all at once. He figured it would be a good way to knock out a 50 mile training run. We couldn't get it together prior to Umstead, so it kept floating around in the background. Royce has been wanting to make the jump to running 100s, so we decided an all night training run was something that he needed to get under his belt. This created a perfect mix of ingredients for a great bad idea. With nothing pressing on anyone's calendar this summer, we've all been itching for a little adventure. Jordan was all recovered from San Diego 100, Royce has been killing it mileage-wise lately, Brett has been wanting to get out for a good long run, and Chris has fully invested himself in the world of bad ideas after the Eastern Divide 50K and Sundown 5K nonsense we did back in June, and I'm always up good time on the trail with friends. So, we decided to set a date and make it happen. Friday July 17th seemed like as good a time as any.

The boys assembled at our house on Friday after work, and Ginger saw us off as we loaded up the cars around 6 p.m.

First, we drove down to Pulaski to drop off a car at the Northern Trailhead, then we headed on down to Galax to get started.

Our journey began at 8:23 Friday night. It gave us a little time to get rolling before we had to break out the headlamps. The temperature at the trailhead was 86 degrees. We all thought it would cool off over night. But we were sooooooo wrong. It seemed like it only got hotter as the night went on.

The miles ticked off as the sun went down, and we jogged along having a good time. Somewhere around mile 2 someone said, "48 bottles of beer on the wall" in the sing songy tone of the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. We all had a good laugh and hoped someone would remember to bring that back at mile 49. We didn't. But we did have a lot of fun suffering our way through a lot of chaffing and what felt like a night of running uphill on a course we figured would be flat or totally down hill since we were following the New River downstream (It flows south to North). The lesson there: 50 miles is 50 miles and it's going to hurt no matter how "easy" you think the course is going to be.

I had the worst chaffing I've ever had on a run in my life. The heat caused me to feel pretty ill for a couple of miles and I even considered dropping out at one point. But, Jordan, Chris, and Royce all made sure I knew that dropping wasn't really an option. I also thought a lot about Travis Macey's book and the idea that no matter what happens: It's all good mental training. I vividly remember thinking: Would you drop at Leadville or Western States if you were chaffing? The answer is certainly not. So, I pushed on and decided it was a good lesson in pushing through the discomfort that you encounter when doing something that is difficult.

The sunrise was worth every bit of discomfort that I was feeling:

It was a wonderful sight to see the sun peaking above the horizon as we made our way to Pulaski in the early morning hours. We arrived at the northern trailhead in Pulaski happy to be back at the car and ready for breakfast. With 9:23 of moving time and 10:23 of total time since we left the trailhead in Galax, we all felt good about our effort. Here's the link to our Strava data if you're interested:

We were hoping to eat breakfast at the Draper Mercantile store on Saturday morning, but we finished too early. I won't complain about that. We decided to hit the IHOP in Dublin since it was open. They had a buffet. We dominated that buffet and amused our waitress and all the patrons as we shuffled into the restaurant looking like we'd been on a bender. I was walking with a hilarious gait because my legs were so chaffed (should have worn compression shorts), and I'm sure I was a sight to behold.

We couldn't find anyone's data on having completed the trail before, so we are thinking we have the FKT for the New River Trail from Galax to Pulaski at 10 hours and 23 minutes. Of course, someone else may have done this and not published the data. We weren't trying to go fast, and I'm certain someone will run it faster as soon as they have the idea to go knock it out. Plus, Jordan could have easily bolted off and finished hours before we all finished together. The FKT thing is just a funny side-note here, not the goal or the plan. Our goal was to have a fun 50 miles of communing on the trail with good friends. We accomplished that for sure.

My final thoughts on the adventure:
1. Running with friends for long distances in the woods is always worth it.The stories you have to share afterwards are always worth the price of admission.
2. If you're going out to run 50 miles, don't forget to plan for chaffing.
3. The New River Trail doesn't offer much in the way of water resupply. Plan for that.
4. I'm pretty happy with my fitness level. My legs weren't sore afterwards, and I'm pretty happy about that.
5. Big ups to Chris for running 50 miles for the first time in his running career.
6. Bad ideas are the best ideas. I'm looking forward to the next one already.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Eastern Divide 50K: A Weekend Full of Classicly Awesome Decision Making

It's been a fun filled summer so far. June began with a cross country road trip to crew/pace my friend Jordan at the San Diego 100. Jordan CRUSHED the race finishing an impressive 11th overall.

It was a great trip. I was able to visit friends all across the country, hang out with my cool cousins in San Diego, do some exploring in Zion National Park, and get some running done in my favorite place (other than Blacksburg) in Leadville. I spent 3 days running in Pbville and was very happy to see some real progress in terms of my ability to run the Pb100 course. Check out this view from the top Hope Pass.

Getting to the top of Hope feeling good was a real confidence builder, and I'm hopeful that I'll have better luck getting a lottery spot in the race next summer. After two weeks on the road, I was ready to be home. I was missing Ginger, YD, Seamus, and Mookie. It was good to get home.

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends we've had since Ginger and I moved to BBurg. If you've seen the movie Highlander, you know about The Quickening. That's what this weekend was like: Some of my favorite people assembling in one place to epic things. Jim (Turbo) rolled into town on Thursday, Chris, Josh, and Jill arrived on Friday night. Having a houseful of good friends is one of my favorite things in the world. Brett and Michele officially moved back to town this week, and then a whole host of awesome BBurg folks (Looking at you Royce and Linda) joined us for the Eastern Divide 50. We got an added bonus as Nelson and Robin showed up at the start line.

After a packet pickup Friday night, we had good dinner at our house and then got some sleep to prepare for Eastern Divide 50K Saturday morning. We all slept as well as you can sleep the night before the race, and then arrived at the start line pumped for a big day.

As the gun went off, Josh, Royce, Brett, Chris, and I began the first climb of the day at a reasonable pace.

Ginger, Turbo, Linda, and Nelson began the climb at smart, measured paces, which enabled all to have great races.

Eastern Divide is one of my favorite races. Kirby (the RD) does an amazing job and the course is great mix of hard climbing and very runnable sections. I had a really rough day last year there, but I knew I was trained and ready to have a good race this year.

I had a good strategy and a solid goal. My goal was to get finished in under 5:30. A reasonable goal given the changes in diet and training since last year. My strategy was to hopefully stay with Josh, Royce, and Brett without going too hard in the first 9 miles. After that, I'd begin to open it up and see what would happen. At mile 6, Brett, Royce, and Chris began to pull away. Josh and I stayed with the plan of a conservative start, so we just watched them head up the trail feeling confident in our plan. The aid station at mile 9 is where the course turns to a very runnable, mostly downhill section until the climb that begins around mile 16. I was feeling great and began to open it up. I was able to pull Brett back (his life has been crazy lately so he was basically running from the couch). During the mile 16-18 climb I was able to start reeling in people and gain some time. The climb felt easy, so I keep pushing. I was careful to be quick through the aid stations. In fact, when I got to the aid station at mile 24ish that Jordan and Kristen were running, I was so focused that I forgot to partake in the awesome freezy pops they were handing out. Jordan looked surprised when I showed up before the usual suspects, and he encouraged me to keep pushing. So I did. After Jordan dumped water on me to cool me off, I took off chasing the three people I could see cresting the hill at the end of the open field past the aid station. I was able to catch and pass this first two people and create some space. The third runner proved more difficult. I was able to pass him, but I couldn't shake him.

In the end, he was able to catch me back up and pass me again. No matter, I was having a great day, and  a lot of fun. The sub 5:30 goal was pretty much in the bag at that point. I kept pushing though. I was thinking that going sub 5:20 would be cool. In the end, I settled for 5:23 and a 14th overall finish.   (Almost 2 hours faster than last year)

Michelle and Jill were a little surprised to see me at the finish. They weren't expecting me yet. Chris had come in at 5:11, which is AMAZING considering it was his first ultra. He is a talented runner, and I was so happy to see him do so well.

After resting and stretching for a few minutes, the buddies started rolling in. Ginger came in at a very strong 6:23 looking fresh and very happy to have beaten her goal by more than 30 minutes. She is awesome, btw.

Linda, Nelson Josh, Brett, and Turbo also had successful days. It was Linda's first ultra, and she turned in an incredible time beating her goal by half an hour.  She is a strong runner, and I was very proud to see her knocking this distance out for the first time. Nelson, always an inspiration, came cruising in with his classic smile. Josh, had some knee trouble (a nagging injury), but he still took 20 minutes or so off of his time from last year. Brett pushed through all that got thrown his way from a tough spring of moving back to town and finished like a beast. Turbo wins the guts and courage award hands down. Being from Dallas, TX means that hill training is not very possible for him. He fought through cramps and big climbs to crush his goal of finishing in under 7 hours. It was such a fun day of watching my friends explore the edge of what's possible.

We all relaxed, recovered, and headed back to the house to get showers and clean up before the SECOND RACE OF THE DAY.

That's right: the 2nd race of the day was the Downtown Sundown 5K. We took Jordan's "More Miles More Fun" mantra to heart. Well, it wasn't really a race for us. It was really a way to just have more fun. Chris ran an impressive time while the rest of us cruised it together enjoying our silly outfits, glowing gear, and embracing the foolishness of doing a 5K after a 50K. We all decided to wear the Eastern Divide race shirt (great job on the shirts this year, Kirby) in the "Wear Your Concert T-Shirt to the Concert" goofy mindset.

All in all, it was a great weekend. It was great to see so many friends and have such a great sense of community around the house. Blacksburg is truly a special place, and Eastern Divide is a great race. Check it out next year. Here's a link to my Strava data from the race if you want to check out the course:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Whole 30, running while changing my diet, and the start to Summer

I've had almost two months to rest and recover since Umstead. Recovery was by far the easiest recovery from any 100 that I've done. I was, of course, all busted up feeling for a few days. I flew out to Wyoming for work on Monday after the race, and getting through the airport was a bit of a challenge. But, after a few days, I was even ready for some easy runs on the trails around Laramie. They were too good to resist.

After a few weeks of running just a bit (25ish mile weeks), I started getting back to normal mileage. With no big races on the calendar, it was easy to just run for fun (which is how I normally roll anyway). Umstead did light a bit of a fire for me though. For the first time, I'm thinking about races as a chance to really push myself to go a little faster and see how fast I can go instead of just finishing. That being said, it's really still all about having the chance to explore cool places with my friends.

As part of my effort to see if I can speed things up, I decided to join Ginger in attempting the Whole 30 diet. Here is a little info about it. Basically, it amounts to cutting sugar, grains, and junk out of your diet. We weren't really eating POORLY, but I was drinking a lot of coke, eating candy, and too much ice cream. I thought it would be a neat experiment, and Ginger really wanted to do it. I really like doing cool stuff with her, and I wanted to be a good teammate, so I signed on.

Here's kind of how it went. 
Week 1:
EATING: Life as I knew it was over. I felt hungover all week. I was tired, and grumpy. Really. Ask Ginger. I'm normally ridiculously positive, but week 1: I. WAS. NOT. A Happy. Camper. At one point I said something like: I've eaten a sandwich for lunch every day of my life. This sucks! Then, our faculty meeting at work was full of Panera sandwiches and cookies. Walking away from that and eating a salad with some chicken on it was no fun at all. But, I didn't want to disappoint Ginger, so I didn't cave. If I'm honest, I have to say that was my only motivation at that point. I hadn't bought into the concept fully. I am incredible skeptical of any kind of fad diet. I also don't like absolutes or any website or book telling what I can or can't do. At that point, it was really just about the team. I was also super stressed that I had a really hard run on tap for Saturday. An all day affair on the AT that would include over 6,000 feet of elevation gain. How in the hell am I going to do that without sugar?

RUNNING: All week, I felt crappy on my runs. In fact, I felt crappy from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. But by Saturday morning, my blood sugar had stabilized, and I felt OK. On the run, all I ate was 3 Vespa packets, 3 Lara Bars, and some bacon that Josh and I cooked up the night before. I felt great all day. It was crazy. No gels. No cookies. No Coke. No added sugar. I normally would have been bone crushing gels and Honey Stinger waffles. That run made a believer out of me. During week 1, I ran 49 miles with over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. So, you CAN run a lot on this diet.

Week 2:
EATING: Things got a whole lot easier. I wasn't craving sugar as much, and I wasn't mourning bread the way I had during week one. During trips to the grocery store, the Reese's Cups were glaring at me like I was some kind of snob, but it wasn't too bad. Again, Ginger deserves the credit here. I have never liked cooking, so she was carrying the load of making sure we had good, healthy food to eat each day. I did lots of dishes, but that's really not much help when you're trying to figure out how to feed two ultra runners who are mourning their old eating habits. She was a rock star. Cooking up Paleo Pad Thai, awesome meatloaf, and a host of amazing dishes. We were also bone crushing scrambled eggs for breakfast every day like we had an army of chickens in our backyard. Trips to the grocery were a constant part of the daily routine. I found that adding salmon to my lunchtime salads (on days when we'd eaten all the leftovers) was a great solution. I'm grateful for all of the research that Ginger did to make sure we had interesting things to eat. Ask her for some recipes, she'll hook you up.

RUNNING: Daily runs during week two got easier. I was no longer worried about how I'd feel without gels or any other kind of sugar. On Sunday, Jordan and a few other VT Ultra folks and I partook in the annual VT Ultra tradition of the "Oldfarathon" which is 9 trips up the Gateway trail out at Pandapas pond. It is a BRUTAL day. Up and down Gateway for 7 hours (much less for everyone else). 7,000 feet of elevation gain. Again, no gels. Just Lara bars, apples, and one Vespa packet. It was HARD. I'm already not looking forward to next year. OK, that's a lie. I'm looking forward to seeing how much faster I can do it next year. During Week 2, I ran 53 miles with almost 10,000 feet of gain. I felt even better during week 2, so this diet works.

Week 3: 
EATING: Now, things are exponentially easier. I've noticing that I'm losing weight. I'm also waking up at 6 am ready to get going. I'm still drinking coffee, but now I'm drinking it because I enjoy it. Not because I HATE mornings. Ginger is rocking things out in the Kitchen and there is always something good to eat for lunch, dinner, and breakfast is getting better and better with Ginger experimenting with frittatas. Still missing bread, but not really missing candy. When I pass by the pastries in the grocery, the pull to grab one is not all that strong.

RUNNING: Running this week was easy. I didn't even think that much about how hungry I felt without a PB&J before a run after work. I was eating a Lara bar before I went out some days. Other days, a handful of almonds was enough. On Saturday morning we went up to the Hat Creek 24 hour relay with Royce, Jordan, Kristen, and Linda. This was a little bit of a challenge. We had to figure out how to fuel for a 24 hour relay without a kitchen. But, we had already figured out the plan of grilling a bunch of chicken to have in reserve all week, so we just grilled some extra and brought it with us. Royce brought a camp stove, and we cooked up eggs and other stuff. Problem solved. I have to say I was really surprised at how easy it was to ignore all the cookies and candy that normally make up aid station fare. We won our division, by the way. We ran 135 miles in 24 hours. The way to the podium for me is to team up with my fast friends in a relay :)

The only real challenge was Sunday afternoon after the race. I was STARVING. We had eaten all of our food, and the race fare didn't have anything for us. I was GRUMPY as we drove through the middle of nowhere looking for somewhere to eat. I was unhappy that finding food was such a challenge. Ginger and Royce were patient, and we found a Panera bread where I got a great salad with chicken. During Week 3, I ran 43 miles and felt great. I also noticed that I was losing a bunch of the fat I was carrying around.

Week 4: 
EATING: During the last week, it was really pretty easy. Ginger had really figured out a system, and we were stocked with good food in the house all the time. I also found that I actually CAN cook. She went out of town on Friday night. I was left at home to figure it out. I saut├ęd some potatoes and grilled some chicken for my salad. I even marinated it using Ginger's recipe. I have to say I was proud of myself. Normally, I would have just gone out to get pizza or made sandwiches all weekend. Now I found out that I can contribute to the cooking. And it's kind of fun. Who would have thought?

RUNNING: Week four was a light running week. I was wrapping up the semester, and with nothing to really focus on, I took it easy. Ran mostly around town with a couple of trail runs for fun. I felt great on most of my runs, but did have some sluggish days where I didn't eat enough. Mostly though, I felt really good. The biggest thing I noticed is that I'm feeling faster and lighter. Week four was 30 miles with about 3,000 feet of gain.

It's not really the end. For me, I think I'm done with the strict, "I can't eat" this or that. But, the results are so good that I will keep going.

Over 4 weeks, I lost 14 pounds. That's significant. I mean, I know I'm not some skinny, fast runner, but I run a lot. I'm not bad shape. To drop 14 pounds is a lot. But, I feel great. So, here's my plan as I get ready for the Eastern Divide 50K in June and beyond:
I'm going to continue to eat good, whole food without ingesting added sugar or eating junk as a regular part of my diet. If I want to have some ice cream, I'll go out to Ben & Jerry's. I won't just have it in the freezer and eat it all the time. I plan to keep eating actual food instead of sandwiches for lunch each day. Sure, If I'm out somewhere and I want a sandwich, I'll get one, But, it'll be thoughtful. I want to see how this new way of eating shakes out over time. I think it can really make me healthier and faster.

My Take-Aways from 30 (now 31) days of Whole 30  eating: 
1. If you think about what you're eating and why, it's a lot easier to make good choices.
2. If you think you're hungry, ask yourself if you would take the time to cook something up. If the answer is yes, you are might really be hungry. If you just want to grab a bowl of Chex Mix, you don't really need to eat.
3. You don't have to eat a bunch of junk to run ultras.
4. For me, eating a lot of meat isn't a bad thing. We ate A LOT of veggies, but more meat than I normally eat. But, I happened to have to go to the Doctor for a normal check up during week 4. The labs results were excellent. Lots of meat and eggs didn't raise my cholesterol. In fact, all my results were the best they've been in years.
4. Sugar is the devil. No seriously, they put it in everything. And you don't need it. Let it be a fun treat, but don't let it rule your life. I didn't think it was ruling mine, but Week 1 was pretty strong proof otherwise.
5. If you're going to do this, partner up with someone you really love. It makes it a lot easier to suffer though the hangover. Misery loves company. Being accountable to someone you don't want to disappoint will help get you to the place where you're actually doing it for yourself. And that's where you have to get to stick with it long term.

This is just my take on it. I'm not a doctor (well, OK I'm a PhD, but not a real, prescription-pad carrying medical-type doctor), and I'm not a nutritionist. This is my experience. If you find it interesting, do your research. Even better ask a nutritionist. My friend Kristen Chang is a bad ass athlete and a RDN. Her blog is a great place to start. She's not a Whole 30 person, but her advice will set you on the path. Whole 30 might not even be for you. But, if you want to be fitter, healthier, or faster, she can help. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Umstead 100 2015 Race Report

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done any blogging. But, I just finished the Umstead 100 this weekend, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank my amazing crew, the RD, the volunteers, and the organizers of Umstead 100. What better way to do that than to share a race report? So here goes:

A Little Backstory
Shortly before Ginger and I moved to Blacksburg, we met some amazing VT Ultra folks at the Terrapin Mtn 50K last year. Brett Sherfy, Jordan Chang, and the rest of the VT Ultra crew made us feel welcome and they’ve really helped Ginger and me feel inspired about running since we moved to town. The community here in Blacksburg is amazing. Brett and Jordan encouraged me to get a slot in this year’s Umstead 100, so I did. And, I’m so glad.

Since I haven’t been blogging, I’ll start with talking about training. I had hurt my ankle last fall right before the Barkley Fall Classic (not the big boy Barkley Marathons, the BFC is a 50K that offers just a little taste of the real Barkley). Because I’m who I am (not a smart man) I kept racing and training through the fall. I had a rough, but satisfying day at the BFC, and then PR’ed at the Marine Corps Marathon and the Mountain Masochist 50 miler in October. I took some time off, and then paced Brett at Hellgate, where I rolled my weak ankle yet again. I had already signed up for Umstead, so I took the rest of December off and dove headlong back into training on January 1st.  I didn’t get to train as much as I normally would for a 100 because of lingering ankle issues and a bout with the flu, but I had a solid training cycle and managed a little over 400 miles from Jan 1 to March 22. Not ideal. But, good enough. I hoped.

I assembled a plan to have a good day. My goal was (1) to finish, (2) to get a PR (Less than 24:53:49), (3) to go sub 23, (4) sub 22. More important was than my plan was my crew. First, Ginger was at the helm again as my crew chief. I know that when she is the one looking out for me, I will have everything I need to be successful. There is not a more supportive wife and best friend anywhere in the world. She is also one hell of a pacer. Second, Ginger’s mom Lois was going to be there to help manage the crew. She’s dynamite. Her encouragement and enthusiasm are unparalleled. Then, the pacers: Josh, my brother from another mother, was going to be there to motivate me through the dark places. I look up to him in ways that he probably can’t figure out because he’s so humble. And Jordan, the most encouraging and nicest human being anyone has ever met would also be there to pace, fix my ailments, and make me laugh.

Fast Forward to Race Day
I showed up at the starting line for Umstead feeling good but apprehensive. My ankle was feeling better thanks to a lot of help from Jordan. He told me I’d be just fine at Umstead. But, there’s always that nagging question. Can I do it? 100 miles is a long way. My last two 100 mile attempts (Leadville and Rocky Raccoon in 2014) had not turned out well. I timed out at Hope Pass at Leadville in 2013 and hurt my ankle at mile 60 at Rocky in 2014. I HAD to get this Monkey off my back. Umstead was my chance to do so.

I woke up at 4 am on Saturday feeling good. That’s saying something because I don’t do mornings. It was cold. Like in the 30’s. I had slept well in the back of Jordan’s Honda Fit (it’s actually quite roomy), and I got dressed and all ready to go. I wore a long sleeve shirt, shorts, my red bandana (a tradition), 2XU calf sleeves, and a pair New Balance 1210. It had rained Friday and Friday night, so I had 3 other pairs of shoes at the ready, but I hoped that it would stop raining so I wouldn’t have to waste time with shoe changes. Brett and I made our way to the start line after some time with our crew. Here's a shot of my and my awesome Crew Chief/Pacer

 Brett, Michelle, and Jordy

The race began in the dark. No rain. Just cold. The atmosphere was electric.

Lap 1: Miles 1-12.5
Planned Time: 2:20
Brett and I planned to run together as long as I could keep up with him. The first few miles went great as the explained the course layout to me. At mile 4, I had to stop at the port-o-john. My anxiety about getting the 100 monkey off my back was wreaking havoc on my stomach, so we split up so I wouldn’t slow him down at all. I managed to make the stop quick, and I was back out on the loop. I felt great and ran easy. I managed to have a great lap in spite of a few pit stops. I was quick in and out of the crew stop. So quick that I forgot to give Ginger a hug before I got too stinky. I felt bad about that.
Actual time 2:11

Lap 2: Miles 12.5-25
Planned Time: 2:30
Lap two was uneventful. I managed to chat with some new friends along the course, and I just ran easy- keeping my heart rate low and reminding myself that this was going to be a fun day. The course was great. I was enjoying the short climbs at a hiking pace and running the flats and downhill stretches. I got in an out of the crew stop and HQ aid station quickly thanks to my amazing crew. As I came through each time Ginger, Josh, Lois, and Jordan quickly changed out my hand bottle and gave me what I needed. I think I remembered to give Ginger a big hug. I hope I did.
Actual Time: 2:12

Lois keeping warm and Jordy Hanging out

Lap 3: Miles 25-37.5
Planned time: 2:35
Lap 3 was awful. My right knee felt like it got a knife stuck in it right before Aid Station 2 (mile 6.8 on the loop). I had been having a great race up to that point. But now, my knee was killing me. I was really worried. I kept thinking: “Oh no. Not again. I am NOT going out like this. There HAS to be a solution to this problem.” I decided to just walk the rest of the lap and get help when I got there. I was not ready or willing to give up. I saw Brett a few miles from the Start/Finish and Crew area and told him quickly that I was having trouble. I felt bad about spreading any bad vibes, but he made me feel better. I came down the hill to the Crew Station on my way to the S/F and told Jordan, Josh, and Ginger that I was having trouble. I knew they could help, so I went to the S/F aid station, fueled up, and then went to get fixed up. Jordan, Josh, and Alan Needle (my buddy who’s an athletic trainer at App. State) were on me like white on rice. Josh said, “It’s going to be OK, brother.” Jordan went right into fix it mode, made sure I was only hurting and not injured, and busted out the Kinsio tape. He taped me up and then Allen added his Athletic Trainer skills and made sure the tape would stay. They were like a NASCAR pit crew banging out the dent in a wrecked car and sending it back on the track. Within 30 minutes, I had a taped knee and dry socks (to avoid blisters). I grabbed my headphones so I could listen to some podcasts to get me out of my own head. Off I went. I decided I would just walk until I couldn’t walk anymore. I figured that if I was really injured my knee would swell and that would let me know. If it didn’t I was HTFU and push through. I had lost 30 minutes by walking so much on this lap, and I knew I had just lost lap 4 time with the taping, but I shifted my goal. Now finishing was the goal. I didn’t care of it took me 29:59:59. I was just going to finish.
Actual Time: 3:03

Lap 4: Miles 37.5-50
Planned Time: 2:40
I set out limping onto lap 4. I said, “Walk to the end of the airport spur. When you get back to the gate, you can bail if you have to. If you can, in the words of Gordy Ainsleigh, “Take one more step. Take one more step and just keep going until you can’t.” I felt a little better at the gate. I decided to push for AS #2 at mile 6.8 of the lap. I figured I could get a ride back from there if I had to quit. But, I didn’t want to quit. By the time I reached AS#2, I felt great. No more knee pain. It was MAGIC! Even though I started the lap with 30 minutes spent sitting in a chair, I finished the lap in 3:04! I was 10 minutes faster in actual moving time than I had planned. I came in at 10 hours and 40 minutes for 50 miles after losing an HOUR to the knee debacle. I knew from this point on that I would finish. And finish strong. My crew had saved my race! I am so grateful to them.
Actual Time: 3:04

Lap 5: Miles 50-62.5
Planned Time: 2:50
I left the Crew Station with buoyed spirits and Ginger at my side. I was so excited to finally have her pacing me at a 100 miler. Lots of people might not understand what this means, but to me it was glorious. To be able to share the trail and this special goal with my wife and best friend is just something special. We talked about running, our life since moving to BBurg, and our hilarious dog and cats. It was so much fun. She kept me moving and kept my spirits high. We speed hiked up the hills and Ginger laughed because I was walking up the hills faster than she walks at the Kroger, which is fast! We crushed that lap and came in way under my planned pace. We made it past the 100K mark with daylight to spare.
Actual time: 2:26

Lap 6: Miles 62.5-80
Planned Time: 3:05
Josh joined me for lap 6. Josh is a special kind of person. I won’t talk about his job because he’s too humble for me to talk about his job without making him sound like the bad ass that he is, but let’s just say he deserves more respect than anyone can ever show him. More than that though, Josh understands friendship and brotherhood in ways that few people do. I treasure spending time suffering with him out on the trail. He’s uniquely talented in the art of HTFU, and he kept us moving at an amazing clip! He told me stories that made me laugh, and we talked about everything under the sun as we passed runner after runner. We’d set our sights on someone, and track them down, tell them they were doing great, and then blow by them. It was awesome!
Actual Time: 2:40- That’s a 12:48 average pace for miles 62-80. Seriously!

Lap 7: Miles 80-92.5
Planned Time: 3:20
Ginger was ready to go to take me back out for Lap 7. I was feeling great. I was tired, and my quads were shredded. But, the energy at the Crew Station was high. Lois was full of encouragement. I was psyched to get to spend another lap out on the course with my awesome bride. We stepped it out and Ginger just kept encouraging me and telling me how great I was doing. She picked up right where Josh left off in terms of helping us pass person after person. It was so much fun. One of my favorite memories of the race was just walking with her, running where I could manage, and talking about how great our life is. We are so lucky. One of my other favorite moments of the race was meeting up with Dan Lenz early in the lap. Dan was crushing the course. Early in the lap, we ran into Dan when he was on his way to the finish. Dan is an amazing guy and one of the strongest runners out there. I called after him to tell him he was doing great and tell him that he was an inspiration. Dan, who was in contention for the win, stopped, walked back to me, shook my hand and told me I was doing great. I was so impressed by that. Here he is in contention for the win and he stops, goes back down a hill to encourage me before heading back out to turn in an amazing performance. That’s why I love Ultras. That’s what this community is about. So cool! Ginger kept me moving quickly and we made it back to the S/F ahead of schedule.
Actual Time: 3:10

Lap 8; Miles 80 to 100
Planned time: 3:35
As Ginger and I came into the Crew Area, Josh was all ready to go to take me on the final lap. Brett Sherfy was nearly finished at this point. Jordan was out pacing him to the finish, so it was up to Josh to get me home. Josh was still wrapped up in a sleeping bag (it was cold), but he dropped the bag and said, “Let’s go brother. We got this. It’ll be the easiest 12.5 mile ruck of your life because you won’t have a ruck on. Let’s go!” So we did. We moved it out as quickly as I could manage. Another race highlight: Josh and I are walking along telling stories and someone comes HAULING ASS up from behind us. We were like, Who THE HELL is moving that fast at this time of night? Of course it was Jordan. Not content to only get Brett finished in a good time, Jordan literally sprinted from the finish line out onto the course to track us down. I’m sure it was good Boston Marathon training for him since we had a four mile head start. He joined us and laughed and encouraged us as we moved through the final lap. We had a blast. I loved every second of the stories he had to tell about Brett’s final lap. Maybe Brett write a race report. I hope so.
Actual Time: 3:25

Total Time: 22:51:00. New PR by 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 49 seconds. All thanks to my amazing crew!

I can’t say thank you enough to Ginger, Lois, Jordan, Josh, Brett, and Michelle. You helped me reach a goal that was really important to me. More than that, I am grateful to have shared the weekend with you.

Here’s a link to my Strava data if you’d like to see more about the course profile:

What you need to know about Umstead 100
·      If you haven’t done this race, do it. The RD, the organizers, and the volunteers are literally the best. They want everyone to be successful. They take care of every runner. From first place to the last runner, they make everyone feel welcome and cared for. They take care of your crew like you would want them to: like family. That’s important. And uncommon.

·      The course is fast, the footing is great, the aid stations are top-notch, and the vibe is electric.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon- Another PR is Always a Good Thing

The trip to D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon was a success. Ginger, YD, and I rolled out of Boone Friday night and made our way up to PA to hang out with my parents for the night. It was great to see them, and YD was psyched to see his grandparents. Saturday morning Mom, YD, and I took a little walk to go find a little coffee to fuel the drive down to D.C. for packet pickup. Glad we got lots of coffee because packet pick up was a Zoo! The lines were insane! I was prepared for a cluster, but I have to say it exceeded anything I could have imagined! It literally took hours to work our way through the lines. I guess I should have known. I've never run a huge race like this. I typically only enter ultras, and you'll never find 30,000 people looking to toe the line at a 50 or 100 miler. There just aren't that many people in the world who are deranged enough for that, I guess. But, we took it all in stride and had a good time with it. That's really all you can do, and this weekend wasn't about just running a race. It was about honoring our fallen brothers and sisters. One of the Always Brothers MCM runners, John Straseskie, is a perfect example of our mission. John was running to honor his brother Kirk, who died trying to save the life of four of his brothers. Check out this inspiring story about Kirk here. I have to say that Kirk's story has influenced me like no other. He truly was a hero. I plan to dedicate the rest of my training this year and my run at the Rocky Raccoon 100 to Kirk. My efforts are only a drop in the ocean of honor that Kirk deserves.

My roommate from the 8th & I and Camp David days, Jeremy Kelly, met us at packet pickup and then we linked up with a bunch of the other runners at the hotel. It was great to see Geoff and Carla and meet some new Always Brothers family members at the hotel. It was great meeting Ken Hickman, JP, Gene and Mary Bryant, Kathryne, and John. They are some amazing folks. Everyone turned in early to get ready for the 5:30 am trip to the start line. On our way, we encountered another maze of lines, but it was lots of fun. We laughed and made jokes about classic Marine Corps hurry up and wait operations.

The start line was like nothing I've ever experienced or imagined. 30,000 people all lined up and ready to put themselves to the test. JK and I made our way to the 3:45 starting corral. We should have gone up to 3:15. I spent the first half of the race weaving my way through the mass of humanity that was making its way through the streets of northern VA and Georgetown. It was impossible to be anything but happy though. I was surrounded by people honoring their loved ones and my brothers. With marching bands, hilarious signs, and hordes of people cheering us on, it was truly an awe-inspiring scene.

I was treating this as just another training run. I was hoping for a marathon PR because that's just how I operate. I'm always pushing myself to get stronger. But, I wasn't really that focused on time. Two weeks ago I ran the New River 50K and PRed that course, so I wasn't sure how my body would react to another serious effort. The main goal (training wise) is to get ready for Rocky, so I didn't want to injure myself. The real goal for the day was to just have fun, honor my brothers, and encourage people whenever I could. It turned out to be a great day because I was able to accomplish all of these goals. Once I reached that halfway point, the crowed thinned out and I started getting after some serious negative splits. Check them out:

My favorite part of the course was a section on Haynes point that had the road lined with pictures of fallen heroes. It was inspiring, and it really put any perceived suffering into perspective. No matter how rough I might feel, it is nothing compared to what these men and women and their families have sacrificed. It as beautiful seeing so many people being honored.

As I rolled into the last 5 miles, I really pushed myself. I wanted to see how hard I could go as I finished up the race. It was so cool to see the Marines and spectators lining the course. My second favorite part of the course was the finish. It was all Marine. At mile 26, the course takes a sharp left turn straight up a hill to the Iwo Jima memorial. It was classic. Oh, you ran 26 miles? You're tired? Suck it up and climb this hill. Awesome!!

The finish of the race was fun. I felt great, and I was happy to beat my marathon PR by almost 10 minutes. The best part though? Seeing my Ginger and my friends at the finish. I was so proud of them. Carla, Geoff, JK, Kathryne, and Ken finished their first marathons in style. JP and Gene set new PR's. Ginger achieved a new marathon PR on a course that was not an easy one.

It was great to see everyone happy and feeling proud at the finish line. Check out Ginger and me celebrating some awesome hardware. She looks like she's at the start not the finish-bad ass!

JK finished in full-on beast mode and looked no worse for the wear.

All in all, it was a great event. We raised lots of money for Always Brothers and, most importantly, we honored some heroes. I'm glad we have some new members of the Always Brothers family. I'm looking forward to our next event in Ohio this Memorial Day. Hit me up if you are interested in joining this great cause. We will have relay teams for the 100 mile run in Ohio. Each team will honor a hero. We will also have some folks who will attempt the full 100. It won't be a race, though. It's about staying together and honoring those who make it possible for us to live the good life.

This week, I've been getting lots of work done at the office and keeping the training rolling. Rocky Raccoon, I'm coming for you!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Always nice to PR on a Training Run- New River 50K

The last few weeks have been really busy at work, but I've been able to maintain my efforts at preparing to chase that Raccoon in Texas this February. I've been feeling strong on daily runs, and I've been enjoying some time on the trails most every day. Yellow Dog has been feel scrappy with the advent of the cool fall weather, so I've been letting him come along on some shorter runs. He is definitely over the distance running thing. At mile 5 he pretty much turns into a parachute dragging behind me. He'll tolerate another mile or so after that, but he's a mile 5 dog these days. And, that's OK by me. I'll happily take 10 more years of the occasional short run with him over a couple of years on long runs.

Last weekend I drove up to Fries, VA to do the New River Trail 50K. It was a fantastic race. The RD (Annette Bednosky) is a bad ass runner and she knows how to put on a solid race. The volunteers were great, the aid stations were well-stocked, and the vibe was awesome. There was a place to park the truck and crash within sight of the Start/Finish and the pre-race communication was top-notch. I drove up after a work function Friday night, rolled into the camp spot around 1 am, climbed in the back of the mobile dog house, and crashed out. Yellow Dog's bed is actually quite comfortable, and I had a great night's sleep. One of my favorite parts of the event is the 8 am start time. There is nothing like being able to wake up at 7:15, eat, get dressed, lace 'em up, and toe the line. It's way more civilized than having to get up at 2 am and start running at 4 am.

The first thing I noticed at the start line was that it wasn't your normal ultra crowd. I was surrounded by a bunch of super-skinnies. There weren't many diesels there looking to suffer for 6-7 hours. Local strongman and Masters' bad ass Doug Blackford pointed out that this race is a lot like a track meet. It was. The field was full of strong marathon runners looking for a Boston Qualifying Time (They have an official marathon split) and a 50K first time or PR. Lucky for me, I never go to a race to race anyone but myself. I'm no speed demon. I'm a grinder who just loves doing long distance. I was, however, looking for my own 50K PR. This race is the course to get one. The old course record was like 3:25 and I think it might have gotten crushed Saturday by someone. Not me though. After taking it on the chin in Leadville, I was hoping to turn this training run into a little redemption, and I was able to do just that. 4:55:58. I beat my best 50K time by 30 minutes. I have to say I'm pretty pleased with that.

I felt strong from the start.  I didn't go out of the gate all crazy though. I like to chat with folks and get into a nice rhythm. As it turns out, Jarheads are everywhere and I spent the first 5 miles chatting with a retired CH53E pilot and his wife who was also a Marine officer. We had a good time telling stories and laughing. When they stopped at the first aid station, I kicked into cruising mode, and got about the business of working towards my goal. One really interesting thing about this race is that it's basically flat. It's railroad grade, so unlike most ultras there is never an excuse to walk. Normally you have some big climbs that you power hike. Not this race. This race is all about keeping the legs churning. No walking needed. It's been a while since I did 31 miles without walking a step, and it felt great. I think it was a great warm up for the Marine Corps Marathon next week. Since that's only 26.2 and it's all road, there will be no walking. Glad I got into shorter/flatter race mode a little early. 

All in all, it was a great day. I got a nasty little blood blister on my toe because I didn't want to stop and clean some pebbles out of my Hokas. No biggie though. It has healed up quickly and won't be a problem. I was happy to get home that afternoon, hang out with Ginger, YD, Mookie, and some friends  (Ash and Lambeth) who were in town visiting. We went for a nice, short hike Sunday and then did a little sightseeing around Linville. It was really nice to hang out, relax, and chill with good friends after the race. I was happy to reach my goal, get a PR, and have a fun day. It was a great confidence builder in the build up to Rocky Raccoon. I took it easy Monday and took Tuesday off. I was back to my normal run today and felt strong. 

I'm looking forward to the trip to DC with the Always Brothers MCM runners next week. It will be so much fun to see Ginger rock out the marathon and see Geoff and Carla reach their marathon goal. Everyone has been training so hard, and I'm excited to see them have a great race day. The fact that we'll be honoring my brothers and raising a little money for Always Brothers is pretty amazing bit of icing on the cake.